Title: "The Gravity of Grief"
Disclaimer: Not mine, as we all well know.
Spoilers: If for some reason you haven't finished the game multiple times already: spoilers for the Landsmeet and the final battle.
Her father is dead. His blood splashed her slippers. She can still feel it, hot and sticky through the velvet, painting her toenails obscenely carmine, though it is days since. Cauthrien's face, white with shock in the crowd, and the thunder of her own heartbeat loud as surf in her ears.
And the elf Warden, expression flat and unreadable as a golem out of legend, saying Alistair will be king over the blade of her bloody sword.
Her captors are not cruel. She is as comfortable a prisoner as ever accompanied an army on the march. Her single maid might be Eamon's woman, and incorruptible by the means still in her power, but the girl is at least competent. The elf visits her guards and the mage who watches over her daily, and on the edge of earshot she hears respect and vigilance often repeated, once on the point of sword. She could curse and rage and pace, but there is no point. Her husband is dead. Her father is dead. She is no longer Queen, and if the Wardens fail, no doubt the darkspawn will consume her, too.
She watches, with a distance and detachment that owes as much to numbness as to clarity of mind.
The dwarves call the Warden lady and duck their heads when she goes past. The Redcliff men mutter among themselves in private and in public salute as sharp as troops on parade. The Dalish hold their tongues and do not spit when she breaks up a brawl. And the bannorn levies watch the mages like mice watching cats until she comes through and has them running drills to defend each other.
The sky is red and blighted. Tomorrow will see the army at Denerim, and men and women gather in knots, gathering their courage. Warding off their fear. She has been dry-mouthed for days, but not with fear of death. As long as she is a prisoner, it is only a matter of time before she dies.
But this is Ferelden. The land her father gave his blood and sweat and soul to defend, the land she held as her charge while Cailan played soldiers and pranced from one bed to another. The land she, as Queen, pledged to protect.
This is Ferelden, and it is dying by inches.
It is evening. A bloody smear of sun lightens the red sky in the west. Long shadows stretch across the trampled ground. Anora looks up into the shadow that has fallen across her lap.
"You," she says, with tired venom.
The Grey Warden Kallian Tabris shrugs, shifting the shield slung over her shoulder. Scuffed leather and battered mail catch the light. She carries her helm under one arm, the other on the hilt of her sword. Her dark hair is sweaty, lying tangled across her forehead, and her lower lip is bruised and bloody. "Me," she agrees, and waits.
And waits. The silence could stretch all night for all Anora cares, but she is tired of pretences, resigned. They both know where the power lies, and it is not in Anora's hands. Not now.
"I assume you must want something," she says. She can still summon queenly disdain, if nothing else.
"Not really." Tabris' tone is flat, but her eyes - her eyes are dark, and very weary, and filled with sorrow. "But you should know. I won't apologise, Highness. I did what I believed necessary. But I regret that it cost you a father. I do regret that."
"And a throne?" Anora is bitter, and does not care to hide it.
The Warden's grin is fast and sharp. "You turned me in to Cauthrien in the hall of Howe's estate for no good cause but your own. You think I'd believe that leaving you on a throne at my back, with your father's death between us, would have been a good risk?" Another one-shouldered shrug. "Besides, if you can hold back from plotting for a couple of months, Alistair will probably put you back in the Teyrnir of Gwaren. If you want it. Ferelden will need capable types in charge of rebuilding. It's not a throne, but it's more than you would've given either of us."
Anora swallows insulted pride, hope, the beginnings of half a dozen plans. "Why should I believe you?"
"Why should you not?" Tabris' gaze is long and level. "I'm going to die tomorrow, Anora Mac Tir," she says, quiet, hard. "I'm going to kill an archdemon so the rest of you can live, and I'm going to die doing it. So do me a favour and don't spend that life trying to get back what you've lost. Give Alistair a chance, and go do something better."
She should be glad the elf is dead. Should be.
The funeral is very fine.
She buries the remains of her father's bones in a tomb in Gwaren, in the spring. Ser Cauthrien stands at her shoulder, dark and silent as a hooded crow. Do someting better, she thinks, and remembers her pledge of homage, teeth gritted on broken pride, hands between Alistair Theirin's callused palms.
Ferelden needs them both, for now.
For now will have to be good enough.